"Wealth makes wits waver." proverb
AS A YOUNG preacher speaking on the spiritual dangers of wealth, I once surprised myself by bluntly asking one of two young men sitting together in the audience, "Suppose I were to give you ten thousand pounds would you kill your friend?"
As soon as I'd spoken, my "let's-all-be-nice-to-each-other" side became afraid and hoped the young man would reply, "Of course not!" But, caught off guard, he simply lowered his eyes and kept silent. The atmosphere became tense. His friend moved slightly away from him.
I thought, "Wow, its true everyone does have his price."
What we'll do for a price may not include killing, but who amongst us has never done anything devious for money? And if we steal or cheat, even in small ways, we're anxious, though we appear to be getting away scot-free. I well remember being trapped by fear when I used to travel on trains without a ticket. The peace, strength, and clarity of a clean conscience is much more precious than gold.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.14.7) says that even if monetary dealings are fair and honest, gold is "the source of all sinful life." Srila Prabhupada writes that wealth is a difficult problem for the devotee making progress on the path back to Godhead. Prabhupada cautions us that many "stalwarts in the devotional line" have fallen victim to the allurement of money and what money can buy and have retreated from the path of liberation.
The main problem with money is that people use it to buy sense gratification, which inflames desire and fools people into believing they are independent enjoyers of all they see. Sense gratification therefore nails us to the wheel of birth and death. If we can pull out from our hearts the nail of selfish desires, we'll become happy and free. Lord Krsna says, "A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires." (Bhagavad-gita 2.70)
Besides winding up in trouble when I think myself an enjoyer, I also land in it when I think I'm an owner. I remember my astonishment at hearing Srila Prabhupada say that if I take so much as a glass of water from a flowing river and claim it mine I'm a thief. Everything, he stressed, is God's property.
If I claim anything mine, I naturally worry about protecting it. My worry may even give me insomnia. Real and complete peace, the fore-runner of happiness, is a state I can reach only when I learn to apply to every aspect of my life what Prabhupada coined "the peace formula": Lord Krsna is the real owner and enjoyer of everything, and He is my ever well-wishing maintainer and friend.
When I remember that Lord Krsna owns my money and owns me too I feel peaceful, like an honest bank-cashier who handles lots of money but whose wits don't waver. He never entertains the notion that any of it might be his. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura sings, "My mind, my body, my house whatever little I consider mine I surrender, O Krsna, at Your lotus feet."
A devotee once told Srila Prabhupada that he found renunciation difficult. Prabhupada replied, "Why? What do you own in the first place? Renunciation means simply to give back to Krsna what was His all along."
Srila Prabhupada says that with the Lord's help the whole business of detachment becomes "as easy as anything." As a doctor helps remove a fever, so Lord Krsna helps reduce the fever of our material attachment. He might take away our wealth, or give us more wealth than we need, or graphically show us the truth of material life, or give us a higher taste, or even give Himself in any case, an aspiring devotee must learn that in Krsna's hands he is always safe.
I feel peaceful when I remember that as Krsna maintains millions of species of creatures, so He cares for me. Srila Prabhupada once said that just as parents feel great pleasure maintaining their children, Krsna enjoys looking after us and sets aside a quota for each of us. Therefore we should not deprive Krsna of that pleasure by trying to make arrangements independent of Him.
We may wonder what exactly constitutes our quota, especially in a consumer society that ever increases artificial needs. But just as we have a sense of what and how much to eat, so we can ascertain our own standard of living. And just as food should never be wasted, so it is with money. Krsna happily supplies us our quota, but we should not forget that every penny is His.
To help us decide how much to lay aside as our personal quota and how much to use in other ways, we'd be wise to seek the help of pure and advanced devotees well conversant with the great art of using everything in Krsna's service.
Although Krsna conscious householders may strive to use every penny in Krsna's service and not one penny in maya's service, they are not fanatics who deprive their families. A Krsna conscious father and husband understands that his family members belong to Krsna and have been entrusted to his care. So he will diligently look after their needs.
As for saving money, Srila Prabhupada said that for householders to lay aside some money as savings or for emergencies is not wrong, but rather sensible. He recalled how previously a husband would adorn his wife in gold jewelry, which she could pawn or sell if times got hard.
In any case, when I remember Krsna, money is never a problem. Whether it comes or goes, money is my friend because it helps me in my service to Krsna. Lord Krsna is also known as Narayana, and money employed in the service of Krsna is known as Laksmi, because it is a representation of Laksmi Devi, the wife of Lord Narayana. Laksmi is also called Cancala, "unsteady," because she does not stay in one place for long. When she is with her husband, however, she resides happily and eternally upon His chest. Similarly, money used in the service of the Lord is the source of steady fortune and prosperity.
Rohininandana Dasa lives in southern England with his wife and their three children. Write to him in care of Back to Godhead.